It’s hard to believe, but I cre­at­ed Vir­tu­al Livo­nia over twen­ty years ago. The most recent exten­sive update of this web­site was quite a long time ago, but my inter­est in the Livo­ni­ans and the Livo­ni­an lan­guage has always con­tin­ued. In the inter­ven­ing years I attend­ed grad­u­ate school and received a Ph.D. in Lin­guis­tics from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara. (The pub­lished ver­sion of my dis­ser­ta­tion on the Yuki lan­guage of Men­do­ci­no Coun­ty in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia can be read here or here. Click on “Pre­view” or “Look Inside” to read the full text of the book.) In the years after that, I stud­ied the his­tor­i­cal­ly South Esto­ni­an-speak­ing Lut­si peo­ple of Lat­gale (east­ern Latvia) thanks to a post­doc­tor­al fel­low­ship from the Kone Foun­da­tion in Fin­land. You can read about my work with the Lut­si peo­ple here.

The present ver­sion of the site includes new books for down­load in the Library sec­tion as well as expand­ed sec­tions on lan­guage and orthog­ra­phy. My hike through the Livo­ni­an Coast vil­lages (along the 40+ km from Pizā (Miķeļ­tor­nis) to Kūolka (Kolka)) is still on the site and hope­ful­ly a lit­tle bit eas­ier to access and browse through in the Trav­el­ogue sec­tion. Oth­er sec­tions are still pret­ty much as they were in the past with some slight alter­ations. The­se include the his­to­ry sec­tion and my mem­o­ries of meet­ing Livo­ni­an speak­er Poulīn Kļav­iņa in the sum­mer of 2000.

Also, this site is not in any way offi­cial­ly affil­i­at­ed with any Livo­ni­an orga­ni­za­tion, nor does it nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the views of the Livo­ni­an peo­ple. Vir­tu­al Livo­nia is intend­ed to spread infor­ma­tion on Livo­ni­an and the Livo­ni­ans and to share my own jour­ney through this top­ic, as it’s fas­ci­nat­ed me for now over half my life.

I’m includ­ing the intro­duc­tion from the 2004 ver­sion of Vir­tu­al Livo­nia below. It reflects my pas­sion for Livo­ni­an in times past and explains why I cre­at­ed this site in the first place as well as how much Livo­ni­an has meant to me over the years. Hope­ful­ly, future updates will be more reg­u­lar, but who can say.

Uld­is Balodis
March 31, 2017


Vir­tu­al Livo­nia is an on-going project, which over the course of the last eight years has sought to estab­lish an online pres­ence for the Livo­ni­an peo­ple, as well as, edu­cate the world about this nation, its lan­guage, and its cul­ture. I became inter­est­ed in the Livo­ni­ans near­ly ten years ago. As a Lat­vian, espe­cial­ly one grow­ing up in the refugee com­mu­ni­ty in the West, I had always had an inter­est in the oth­er major nations of the Baltic States, the Lithua­ni­ans and the Esto­ni­ans. I’d spent time study­ing Old Prus­sian, an extinct West Baltic lan­guage, but in time I began to won­der if there was more. Read­ing books of Lat­vian his­to­ry, the Livo­ni­ans were always a recur­rent the­me. They were one of the great nations of the Baltic region. For cen­turies the Livo­ni­ans had lived side by side with my own ances­tors. And real­ly, by the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, often our ances­tors were the same peo­ple. Cer­tain­ly, many Livo­ni­ans had Lat­vian rel­a­tives, but like­wise the influ­ence of Livo­ni­an could be felt in the cul­ture and even lan­guage of the Lat­vians. It seemed that much of what set apart our lan­guage from that of our lin­guis­tic cousins, the Lithua­ni­ans, was the influ­ence of Livo­ni­an. But what had hap­pened to the­se peo­ple? When I began my search a decade ago, I assumed there were still many of them. But soon I would be amazed to learn that there were only about ten speak­ers of the lan­guage left, with may­be a cou­ple hun­dred indi­vid­u­als claim­ing Livo­ni­an as their iden­ti­ty.

And so was born the idea for Vir­tu­al Livo­nia. It was not easy find­ing infor­ma­tion about Livo­ni­an. There were no eas­i­ly avail­able books, and it would be years until I would actu­al­ly find a speak­er of the lan­guage. My ini­tial idea was to share what I knew about the Livo­ni­ans, while also pro­vid­ing a forum for oth­ers to pass on what they knew to those inter­est­ed in the lan­guage and cul­ture. The first ver­sion of the site went online in June of 1996, the sum­mer before I would begin my uni­ver­si­ty stud­ies.

Over the course of the next years the page would expe­ri­ence some suc­cess. Vir­tu­al Livo­nia was instru­men­tal in hav­ing an arti­cle appear about the Livo­ni­ans, in the New York Times in 1997, as well as, fea­tur­ing them in a brief pro­gram on CNN Inter­na­tion­al in 1998. In 2000, the pages would be exten­sive­ly revised. In the months fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of my bac­calau­re­ate degree in lin­guis­tics, I would cre­ate a web ver­sion of a book of Livo­ni­an texts, Līvõd Tek­stõd, by Val­da Šuvcāne. The sum­mer of that year I would make my first jour­ney to the Livo­ni­an Coast, study­ing the lan­guage, meet­ing speak­ers, and explor­ing the coast vil­lages where the Livo­ni­ans had made their home for cen­turies.

The pages would remain untouched for three years, until they would be erased with­out expla­na­tion from their home on the geoc­i­ties server. By this time I had embarked on a course of grad­u­ate study unre­lat­ed to lan­guages or Livo­ni­ans, and there was lit­tle time to make revi­sions. The grad­u­ate study would end unex­pect­ed­ly, and once again I found myself with an oppor­tu­ni­ty to turn my atten­tion to this dis­tant shore that had fired my imag­i­na­tion for so many years.

The new revi­sion of the page took form over the course of sev­er­al months. The final result would be marked­ly dif­fer­ent than any­thing I had envi­sioned in the begin­ning. It would com­bine many of my inter­ests. My inter­est in the lan­guage itself, my love of pho­tog­ra­phy, my love of telling sto­ries. The result would be some­thing approach­ing a com­plete expe­ri­ence of the coast. Vis­i­tors could learn about the lan­guage, even hear spo­ken exam­ples in the Lan­guage sec­tion and in the off-site links given in the Resources sec­tion. They could learn about the his­to­ry of the nation, by read­ing the arti­cle on his­to­ry in the About Livo­nia sec­tion. An arti­cle which pro­vides a per­spec­tive that endeav­ors to focus on events from the per­spec­tive of the Livo­ni­ans. They can walk through the coast towns, as I did, by vis­it­ing the Sojourn sec­tion, view­ing pho­tographs and read­ing the accom­pa­ny­ing sto­ries. In the end I felt that I had come to cre­ate the very site that I wished I could have found ten years ago, when I first became inter­est­ed in this lan­guage and cul­ture.

As I launch the third incar­na­tion of this site, my hope is that it will con­tin­ue to ful­fill its orig­i­nal pur­pose, as a source of infor­ma­tion about this lit­tle-known nation liv­ing on the shores of the Baltic Sea. But also that oth­ers can share in my expe­ri­ences of that sum­mer four years ago. A sum­mer that was mean­ing­ful, but also beau­ti­ful, amaz­ing, as well as, pro­found. So, please enjoy, and please share your com­ments and ques­tions with me.

Uld­is Balodis
Novem­ber 18, 2004